Hayden Hunstable is being remembered as a loving brother, son and grandson, with his father saying the boy showed no signs of depression before dying by suicide last month.
Just days before his 13th birthday, in the middle of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, Hayden died after his world turned upside down.
“My son died from the coronavirus,” Brad Hunstable said in a video just two days after he buried his son.
“But not in the way you think.”
Mr Hunstable explained the mandated stay-at-home orders in his home state of Texas have brought about “social and emotional challenges beyond comprehension”, and a GoFundMe page set up in memory of Hayden explains he was “unprepared for social isolation”.
While the world grapples with COVID-19, mental health has been thrust into the spotlight, with experts concerned about how the pandemic and social distancing is impacting people.
Since Hayden died, Mr Hunstable has spoken out on social media, advocating that conversations matter, while navigating online trolls and “haters” as he grieves.
“I’m just a dad who lost his boy. My heart aches. I cry everyday. I’m lost at times and hopeless at others,” Mr Hunstable wrote on Facebook.
“But... I don’t know what else to do but to fight for Hayden’s legacy, fight so no parent feels or sees what I experienced.”
“Hayden’s family founded ‘Hayden’s Corner’ in order to organise and fund a strategic communication campaign that will produce high-impact PSAs (public service announcements) and curriculum resources that provide parents and educators with the life-saving skills needed to survive this new world of social distancing and isolation,” the gofundme says.
While the Hunstables are from Aledo, Texas, mental health is not an issue exclusive to the United States.
Australians reach out to deal with loneliness
In Australia during the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a 50 per cent increase in people seeking help from Reach Out’s digital youth mental health service compared to last year, with young Australians seeking advice on how to deal with an array of issues, including loneliness.
ReachOut CEO Ashley de Silva explained since physical-distancing measures were implemented in mid-March there had been a number of concerns raised.
“It’s kind of moved through stages for people,” Mr de Silva told Yahoo News Australia.
“Initially in the early stages there was a lot of fear and anxiety around actually contracting coronavirus.
“And then it moved into a period where people were quite stressed around adjusting their lives to working from home – parents were being asked to school their kids – huge changes to the things we would normally be doing.”
Recently, there has been a sense of frustration, he explains.
“Living so differently for so long, I think people are starting to think further a field to the longer-term impacts linked to things like employment and education and the economy,” Mr de Silva said.
Increase in numbers accessing mental health services
ReachOut offers young people and their parents support, tools and tips to help young people get through everyday issues and tough times and since March 16, more than 800,000 people have accessed the organisation’s services.
ReachOut is continuing to focus on making sure young people continue to seek support amid the pandemic, and beyond.
While the increase in people looking for help might be startling, it is a positive sign that they are being proactive in regards to their mental health.
“The data we’ve seen in this period is that large numbers of young people are seeking help and that’s exactly the kind of thing you want to see,” Mr de Silva said.
ReachOut has observed increases across a whole range of services offered, notably the online peer support forums, which has allowed for people to connect and come together, through asking questions and sharing experiences, allowing for people to post anonymously while the forum is moderated by the mental health team.
“It’s a good thing if people are exploring these kinds of conversations, we play a big role in trying to help link people into further support when they need it,” Mr deSilva said.
“For us it’s a good sign to see people engaging.”
Australia moved quickly and determined there was a “significant mental health reality attached to a pandemic”, Mr de Silva said.
By anticipating the potential problems pertaining to mental health during the pandemic, it allowed for an increase in capacity across helplines and further investment and introducing telehealth,
“There’s opportunities to continue to strengthen the digital response, particularly for young people,” Mr de Silva said.
What to do if you or someone you love needs help
Mr de Silva said it was important to acknowledge everyone had different emotions and experiences.
Feelings can come and go, and considering ReachOut’s online support for isolation and loneliness has been accessed 17,000 times, you’re not alone.
He advises people to act on their feelings in a productive way.
“Come to a place like ReachOut, go to a GP, chat with a trusted person in your life and if needed engage in other services like Headspace, Kids Helpline and actually take the steps to be proactive around looking after yourself during this period,” Mr de Silva said.
“It really has been a period of big adjustments.”
Throughout all this, you may have noticed a family member or friend acting differently, and it is important to have a conversation with them to make sure they’re going okay.
“There does seem to be some reluctance to have the conversation, one of the things we often hear is that people are scared they will make something worse,” Mr de Silva explains.
“It’s definitely not the case and there are some great resources around there on ReachOut and other places like R U OK? and You Can Talk, which give people information on how to have conversations in this space.”
Mr de Silva says it helps to be specific when speaking to someone about their mental health.
“For instance, ‘Hey, I noticed you haven’t seemed yourself in the way that you’re talking about things you normally love, and I just wanted to check if there is anything going on you might want to talk about’,” Mr de Silva explains.
Feeling worried or struggling to cope during the coronavirus pandemic?Visit coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au or speak with trained counsellors on 1800 512 348.
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